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dogs surrounded by fire
figure 1  


dog's life. A miserably unhappy existence.

This is definitely not the life of Riley. The reference is negative despite the pampered state in which most dogs are kept in contemporary society. Indeed, in contemporary society, the term appears to as often refer to a good life as a hard one.  In its annual plea for charity, the New York Times describes the circumstances of Rita Pulsoni, 54, who was born premature, has been blind since birth, and requires the services of a guide dog: “Ms. Pulsoni is the first to tell you that this is no easy dog's life.”reference 1 The life of her service dog, Aida, is apparently much easier.

Which is not to say that the traditional meaning no longer applies. French couturier, Balenciaga said, in his only known interview, that fashion was ''a dog's life''reference 2 (which may be why he dropped out for a while).

1. Potts, Monica. 2005. The Neediest Cases; Becoming Even More Self-Sufficient, with a Little Help. New York Times, Nov 28. Accessed Jan 3 2008 from http:// gst/ fullpage.html? res= 9B07E2DE 1431F93B A15752C1 A9639C8B63.


2. Horyn, Cathy. 2001. Front Row. New York Times, Aug 28. Accessed Jan 3, 2008 from http:// gst/ fullpage.html? res= 9A03E1D61 F31F93BA1575BC0 A9679C8B63.

The tension is not a new one.  The Children’s Hour, published in 1879, contains the following colloquy entitled “A Dog’s Life”:

frollicking dog
figure 2  

“I wonder what people mean by saying that this one or that one leads a dog's life?” said Ruth Wilbur. “I think dogs have a very easy sort of life indeed; they never have to go to school, or comb their own hair, or wash dishes, or do any of those disagreeable things. Don't you wish you were a dog, Louise?”

“No,” said Louise, “I've seen dogs I felt real sorry for; when nobody spoke a kind word to them, but just kicked them about, and made them feel real bad, I know. I like dogs.”

“So do I,” said Ruth, “especially Ned. He's a jolly good dog! Some dogs have to work for their living,” she added thoughtfully. “They churn, they guard sheep, they follow the chase, they watch their masters' houses and goods. A dog's life is a hard one when he is only kicked and cuffed, and never hears a kind word.”

“Then people must mean that one leads a dog's life when no one is kind to him,” said Louise. “I don't want to lead such a life.”

“Nor help any one else to,” said Ruth.reference 3

3. The Children's Hour. 1879. New York: Phillips & Hunt.

About the illustrations: Figure 1 might be entitled “dogs in hell,” since these two appear to be in the midst of a raging fire. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 2 is taken from the Children’s Hour. Public domain.

see also: dog's chance; work like a dog; lazy as a dog Last updated: July 5, 2008
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